Study in children challenges primary theory for 'stroke belt'

SAN DIEGO, Feb. 6 A study finding a "stroke belt" in children challenges the theory on why stroke deaths are higher in the southeastern United States. The research was presented today at the American Stroke Association's 29th International Stroke Conference.

Factors related to atherosclerosis are believed to be the reason stroke deaths are significantly higher in the "stroke belt," which includes Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennesse and Virginia.

Scientists have questioned whether people in these states have more strokes because they have more risk factors for atherosclerosis, the build-up of fat-containing deposits in the inner walls of arteries. These risk factors high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, high cholesterol and high triglycerides in the blood are strongly related to lifestyle habits such as diet and exercise.

Researchers from the University of California San Francisco examined whether there is also a stroke belt for children. Overall, stroke in children is rare.

"By studying children, a group whose stroke rates are not affected by atheroslerotic risk factors, we can address the question of whether these risk factors are enough to explain the stroke belt," said Heather J. Fullerton, M.D., clinical instructor of neurology and pediatrics at the University of California San Francisco.

The researchers, analyzing death certificates for 1979 1998, found that people under age 20 in stroke belt states had a 21 percent higher risk of death from stroke compared with people of the same age in other states. The risk was 20 percent higher among people over age 25 in that region during the same period.

"This means that we should look at stroke risk factors that are applicable to both children and adults when attempting to explain the stroke belt," Fullerton said. "We might look predominantly toward environmental or cultural factors, such as differe

Contact: Carole Bullock
American Heart Association

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